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Chattanooga native stars in new NBC show "RISE"

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -

A new show coming to NBC has strong ties to Chattanooga. Damon Gillespie is staring in the show, "RISE."

Gillespie graduated who from Chattanooga Center for Creative Arts.

Take a walk down the hallways of CCA and you will see Gillespie’s picture from newspapers and magazines. CCA is where he got his start.

"The past 5 months honestly have just been some of the best months of my life," Gillespie said with a smile.

He has already made his Broadway debut, but starring in a TV show is a new experience.

His love of theatre started at Chattanooga's Center for Creative Arts.

"I couldn't believe that he was going to be on TV,” his piano teacher and accompanist, Marcia Smith said after she watched a commercial with Gillespie in it, “Not like that."

Seeing him in commercials is still surreal, for him and his teachers.

"I still just like, my eyes light up and my hands start to shake because I’m nervous and I want it to be good!" exclaimed Gillespie.

However, his former teachers said his success is no surprise.

"Yeah we were aware that he had that 'it' factor," urged his former music theatre teacher Allan Ledford.

His teachers love to talk about his talents: singing, dancing, and acting.

They use his success to show other students it is possible. Though they have to laugh at what they remember most about him off-stage.

"If I found a tap shoe somewhere,” recalled Smith with laughter, “Who's is this? ‘Oh that belongs to Damon.’ Or he loses his phone somewhere. Or, ‘I can't find my folder!’ But that was Damon."

Gillespie tells us some things have not changed, "I write everything down. I'm 100 percent, if anything, I'm more forgetful because so much more stuff has come into my life!"

But this new busy life style is a blessing.

"It makes me very happy to know that people from my hometown still believe in me and they are so willing to show their support," said Gillespie.

His advice to students sitting in the seats he was in just a few years ago, “continue to work on your craft and be a sponge in everything that you. Everything that you learn, be a sponge and absorb that information. Take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to you."

He still visits CCA whenever he's in town.

Many of his teachers are planning a watch party when the show debuts.

The show, RISE, debuts on WRCB Tuesday, March 13.

The show is also helping to fund high school theatre programs. RISE America is giving $10,000 to 50 high schools across the country to help continue funding the arts.

The winning schools will be announced in March, CCA applied for the grant.

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